In the past we've described TechEd as more about the Ed than the Tech, but this year's event was very different: packed full of news of new technologies and services. Microsoft's announcements at TechEd 2013 in New Orleans focused on Windows Server and on System Center — and that included many of the new enterprise features demonstrated on Windows 8.1.
That's not surprising. TechEd is really Microsoft's Server and Tools Business event, and Windows is keeping its powder dry for its upcoming BUILD event in San Francisco at the end of the month.
When you step back from the hustle and bustle of a big event, it turns out that there's a deeper meaning in the announcements and demonstrations, and in the fact that it's starting to get harder and harder to work out where one Windows product ends and another begins. Windows is smearing itself across everything from phones to TVs to tablets to PCs to servers to the cloud. It's a continuum of Windows — a spiral galaxy of tools and services, with System Center the black hole at its core.
Microsoft calls it the Cloud OS, and that's a fair description of what it's delivering. Other companies talk about the software-defined data centre, where you can dynamically reconfigure your servers and networks to deliver the services your users want. That's part of what Microsoft is delivering, but it's also going a step or two further, linking that dynamic data center to the public cloud — with virtual networks that bridge between on-premises infrastructure and virtual infrastructure running on Azure.
Breaking down walls
Part of that comes from the way Microsoft is breaking down the walls between once disparate teams, moving from a traditional cadence to a yearly, or even faster, delivery cycle. You could think of it as delivering services and tools on cloud time — something that Microsoft needs to do to have any chance of repositioning itself as a devices and services business. So when planning the "Blue" wave of servers and management tools, the Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 teams sat down together to plan a coordinated approach that would match server and management tooling.
The result is something that Brad Anderson, corporate vice president, Windows Server & System Center, thinks of as similar to the way a switch works. System Center is the control plane, setting the rules and defining how services will operate, while Windows Server is the data plane — the fabric on which virtual machines and storage are built. It's an intriguing way of looking at things, and perhaps one we all need to adopt, if we're to consider our own data centers as our own clouds — and if we're to adopt cloud-centric development and management patterns.
System Center is the control plane, setting the rules and defining how services will operate, while Windows Server is the data plane —
the fabric on which virtual machines and storage are built.
We need to stop thinking about applications, and start thinking about workloads. The tools and technologies that ship as part of Windows Server 2012 R2 (and Windows 8.1) are finally delivering on the service-oriented architecture vision. It may have been the best part of a decade in the making, but it's critical in the transition from data centers to clouds. Monolithic applications may work in the cloud for a while, running in virtual machines, but what the cloud is about is a way of flexibly delivering services that can be connected together to support business needs.
It’s a very different way of thinking about the relationship between a business and its IT, but it's a change that needs to happen if we're to deliver on the promise of modern IT. It's all very well having the latest OS and management tooling, but if you're still just an IT janitor, cleaning up after your users, you're not going to be delivering the innovation your business needs — at the speed it needs.
A cloud cadence isn't just for Microsoft. It's for your business too. It'll allow you to deliver those mobile apps your users want, in a much more rapid way. It'll mean changing the way you work, automating much more of the day-to-day stuff of IT management, allowing you to pick up new skills, and to become an internal consultant in your own business. After all, if you don't do it, someone else will be doing it for you.